System of Tourism Statistics is embedded in the National Statistical System, providing of reliable, consistent and appropriate statistical information on the socio-economic aspects related to tourism, integrated within the economic and social statistics related to other fields and at different territorial levels.

In 2008 the international statistical community agreed on a 2-piece set of recommended methodological frameworks for measuring tourism in a standard way.

The International Recommendations for Tourism Statistics 2008 (also known as IRTS 2008) provides a comprehensive methodological framework for collection and compilation of tourism statistics in all countries irrespective of the level of development of their statistical systems.

The IRTS 2008 provides the main concepts, definitions and classifications for the measurement of tourism in a standard way across countries. The core of these concepts and definitions are included in Understanding Tourism: Basic Glossary (arabic), (english), (español), (français) and (russian). An extended version of the glossary is available in English only: Glossary of tourism terms.

Its primary audience is the staff of national statistical offices and national tourism administrations involved in the compilation of tourism statistics. The publication also contains a wealth of information that may be of interest to data users who would like to better understand the nature of tourism data. In addition, it provides general guidance with respect to data sources and data compilation methods.

Quick overview of contents:

The IRTS 2008 was approved by the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) at its 39th session (26-29 February 2008). It revises and replaces the previous 1993 Recommendations on Tourism Statistics (1993 RTS) adopted by the Commission in 1993 and published in 1994 (the IRTS 2008 – Annex 1 shows the main differences between the 1993 RTS and the IRTS 2008).

The International Recommendations for Tourism Statistics 2008 Compilation Guide (adopted by UN Statistical Commission in its 45th session, 4-7 March 2014) is a companion document to the International Recommendations for Tourism Statistics (IRTS 2008). The primary purpose of this Compilation Guide is to provide further clarifications and practical guidance for using sources and methods to compile statistics on tourism. It is designed to support the production of a high quality set of basic data and indicators in each country, and to strengthen the international comparability of tourism statistics.

The Compilation Guide discusses new data sources and the application of statistical methods to changing circumstances. Statistical methods evolve over time and the Compilation Guide does not present a prescriptive or definitive approach to compiling tourism statistics.

The Compilation Guide includes comments and explanations on the different concepts introduced and used in IRTS 2008, orientation on the issues behind these recommendations, guidance on how to compile the recommended variables and aggregates, and examples of how some countries have solved specific problems. Some of the solutions can be considered best practices; others, while geared to particular national circumstances, may nevertheless be interesting as illustrations of how countries can overcome obstacles encountered in the compilation process.

The Compilation Guide is structured similarly to the IRTS 2008 and provides extensive explanations and country examples of typical compilation issues, as follows:

In order to keep the Compilation Guide as accurate as possible and to facilitate its update as new best practices are identified and countries provide the latest information on different statistical issues, is being issued in two different formats:

  • As an e-document with hyperlinks to IRTS 2008, other documents, country case studies and complementary material, as deemed appropriate, which will be regularly updated to reflect new experiences considered useful for the statistics community. While the e document will be available in English only, the links will in some cases direct readers to case studies in other languages and in the United Nations official languages of the wherever possible.
  • As a document in PDF format for printing and translation into other languages (except for hyperlinks material case studies and other complementary material), so as to facilitate dissemination to other interested audiences, particularly users of tourism statistics.

The general guidelines proposed by UNWTO are intended to promote the configuration of national tourism statistical systems with a view to:
obtaining sets of data that are sufficiently accurate and based on sufficiently homogeneous principles to allow for more advanced international comparability;
enabling countries to identify their statistical gaps and providing guidance on how to fill them; and
improving the design and monitoring of tourism policies (especially in the area of marketing).

The Tourism Satellite Account (TSA) is a standard statistical framework and the main tool for the economic measurement of tourism. The Tourism Satellite Account: Recommended Methodological Framework 2008  (also known as the TSA: RMF 2008) provides the updated common conceptual framework for constructing a TSA. It adopts the basic system of concepts, classifications, definitions, tables and aggregates of the System of National Accounts 2008 (SNA 2008), the international standard for a systematic summary of national economic activity, from a functional perspective.

The TSA thus allows for the harmonization and reconciliation of tourism statistics from an economic (National Accounts) perspective. This enables the generation of tourism economic data (such as Tourism Direct GDP) that is comparable with other economic statistics. Exactly how the TSA does this relates to the SNA logic of contrasting data from the demand-side (the acquisition of goods and services by visitors while on a tourism trip) with data from the supply-side of the economy (the value of goods and services produced by industries in response to visitor expenditure).

The TSA can be seen as a set of 10 summary tables, each with their underlying data:

TSA data provides a better understanding of the place of tourism in an economy and enables a range of economic analysis (see TSA: RMF 2008 – Annex 6). For example, it becomes possible to apply economic modeling techniques (like Input-Output analysis) to TSA data in order to estimate the indirect and induced effects of tourism in an economy.

In March of 2017, the UN Statistical Commission agreed with the UNWTO proposal to prepare a Compilation Guide for the Tourism Satellite Account under the supervision of the Committee on Statistics and TSA of the UNWTO. This guide should support countries in producing a TSA and to derive TSA indicators such as Tourism Direct GDP or employment related to tourism.

The Compilation Guide for the Tourism Satellite Account 2008 (CG-TSA) will be the companion to the international recommendations contained in Tourism Satellite Account: Recommended Methodological Framework 2008. It will be based on the Canadian Tourism Satellite Account Handbook (2007), the European Implementation Manual on TSA (2001), and the Eurostat TSA in the European Union, Volumes I, II and III (2009). In addition, the guide will make reference to the UN technical report on “a Systems Approach to National Accounts Compilation” (1999).

The Compilation Guide for the TSA would be structured as follows:

Expert Group on Compilation Guide for Tourism Satellite Account

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), with the support of the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), are setting up an Expert Group on Tourism Satellite Account to lead the development of the Compilation Guide.

The group will collect and review existing supporting materials, collect country practices and draft text for the Guide.

The first meeting of the Expert Group on Compilation Guide for Tourism Satellite Account was hold in UNWTO Headquarters, Madrid (Spain) on 25 February 2019.

A System of Tourism Statistics (STS) should be understood, as that part of the National Statistical System (NSS) providing reliable, consistent and appropriate statistical information on the socio-economic aspects related to tourism, integrated within all the economic and social statistics related to other fields, at different territorial levels (national –or federal, where appropriate-, infra-national and international).

The design of a national STS should be viewed as the basic coordination and integration framework of the statistical information produced by all tourism stakeholders. Concepts, definitions, classifications, data, indicators, aggregates and table of results relating to tourism, designed so as to provide an exhaustive description of the tourism phenomenon in all its aspects (physical, social, economic, etc.) and a measurement of its economic contribution within a context of international comparability are a structural part of the NSS.

The new International Recommendations for Tourism Statistics 2008 (IRTS 2008) and Tourism Satellite Account: Recommended Methodological Framework 2008 (TSA:RMF 2008) constitute the updated reference framework for the STS. As a consequence, they should be used as a reference for harmonization, coordination and integration of available tourism statistical information, although this information might extend in the coming years beyond the still restricted domain these recommendations touch upon: for instance, by extending the concept of consumption to include other components of demand (such as collective consumption and gross fixed capital formation), by developing the sub-national perspective, by developing the link with other statistical system such as that on environmental issues, etc.

For a more detailed description see:

Strengthening national STSs

The design of the STS should be viewed as the basic coordination framework of all the information produced by all stakeholders in tourism. Concepts, definitions, classifications, indicators and accounting aggregates relating to tourism, designed so as to secure an exhaustive description of the tourism phenomenon in all its aspects (physical, social, economic, etc.) and a measurement of its economic contribution within a context of international comparability are a structural part of the system.

Although it is the countries' responsibility to carry out the development of the STS, the UNWTO recommends this should follow the Basic Principles of Official Statistics approved by the United Nations Statistical Commission (11/15 April 1994).

Those principles provide guidelines for establishing and maintaining a credible STS and therefore, the use of such principles should be understood as a necessary condition to maintain users' confidence in tourism statistics and, particularly, to help guaranteeing the integrity, transparency and confidentiality of the individual data and the public access to the available statistics.

UNWTO has developed specific initiatives to promote greater credibility and comparability of tourism statistics in areas where it could have a comparative advantage: these consist exclusively of two demand-side variables (arrivals/departures by non-residents and expenditure associated to inbound tourism), on which general guidelines have been drawn up in order to provide the statistical instruments considered ideal for the great majority of countries (this is the case of our proposed model border surveys).

Also, albeit with much lower ambitions, minimal guidelines have been drawn up for those countries that due to various types of reasons (undoubtedly, limited availability of budgetary resources is the most common) consider the use of tourism modules in surveys in which it is possible to do so (basically, these are household surveys for the purpose of research on household budgets).

Lastly, and specifically regarding the usefulness of administrative and tax records, a comparative study has been carried out in various OECD countries which highlights the importance of statistics based on this type of records for the purpose the structural analysis of the tourism industries and for monitoring the situation of tourism activity on the demand side.

Aside from these contributions, others have also attracted the attention of the UNWTO Statistics Department and have been published as special issues in the “Enzo Paci Papers on Measuring the Economic Significance of Tourism”.

Volume 3 includes four contributions on the topic “Using Household Surveys for Measuring Domestic Tourism”:

The topic “Revision of series in tourism statistics” was dealt with in volume 4, including the following contributions:

Good practices 

Over the course of several years, UNWTO has issued a number of contributions aiming at the strengthening of national STSs, notably:

These contain references to experiences that were considered to be especially pertinent to the topics at hand, though in no case was there any intention to carry out an exhaustive compilation of best practice examples. Therefore the examples given should be understood as merely illustrative of the development of national STSs, which are believed could be of interest to other countries.

The following examples are taken from boxes or annexes in Tourism as an International Traded Service – A Guide for Measuring Arrivals and Associated Expenditures of Non-Residents: